One of the worst parts of breaking camp is figuring out the best way to fold up your pop-up tent without flying into a rage when it’s finally done. When it comes to pop-up tents, you probably wish the things folded up as quickly as they pop up and that’s understandable because we do too.

Fortunately, there is a step-by-step way of folding up your pop-up tent with as little frustration as possible. Pop-up tents are generally oval in shape and folding one quickly means bringing the poles together, folding them to where you can grasp them in one hand, and compressing the entire thing.

Sound like fun? Well, once you get the hang of it, we can’t promise that it will be fun, but it will be a heck of a lot easier. The vast majority of pop-up tents are designed for one or two people and weigh less than 10lbs, which is what makes them attractive options for fast and easy setup and break down.

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If you’re not going to use your pop-up tent again for a while, make sure to properly clean it before folding it.

How to fold a pop-up tent

During a night photoshoot session
We waited for ours, in a cold and windy summer night, to make only some shots of the night sky. 
Nicola Pavan©
Photo by Nicola Pavan / Unsplash

Folding a pop-up tent isn’t like rolling up a sleeping bag and (for first-timers) it looks a lot more complicated than it really is. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to fold up and stow your pop-up tent nearly as quickly as it pops out. Before you get started, be sure to leave the door unzipped or otherwise open, as well as any windows.

The entire folding procedure is a four-step process:

  1. Clean the tent first
  2. Deal with the top poles
  3. Deal with the bottom poles
  4. Roll the tent over on the side

Let’s jump straight into the first step which is frankly one of the most important steps since it’s going to determine the lifespan of your tent.

Step 1: Clean the tent first

You can’t fold the thing up with all of your stuff still in there, after all. But no, we’re not really talking about your stuff. You just want to get out all of the dirt, debris, leaves, pine straw, or anything else that managed to find its way in there since you popped the tent out.

You should also use a wet cloth to wipe it down, inside and out. You’re probably thinking that this will take a lot of unnecessary time and you would be right, except for the unnecessary part. The thing is, if you want to prolong the lifespan of your tent, then you need to keep it clean.

When you fold it up without wiping it down, there’s no telling what else is getting folded up in there. Give it a quick wipe and let it dry before you take the next step. A good wipe down will also help to prevent any mold or mildew growth in the future and if there are twigs or other hard debris still in the tent, cleaning it will prevent them from tearing holes in the canvas.

Step 2: Deal with the top poles

Most pop-up tents have two, large, looping poles in the center. They both form the structural integrity of the tent roof as well as the foundation. You’re basically starting from the center of the tent and working your way out.

Stand at the tent’s center, look at the tent and grab both the nearest left and right tent poles. Pull the two together at the top. It will immediately affect the entire tent because the tent’s pop-up ability is fueled by the pressure of the tent poles.

Bringing the central poles together removes much of that pressure, so all you have left are the bottom poles to deal with.

Step 3: Deal with the bottom poles

You’re essentially repeating the process that you used for the top poles, only with the bottom poles. When you bring them together, much of the remaining pressure from the poles are removed from the equation.

If you left the window or door open, the tent will deflate that much quicker. If you neglected to leave them open, you’re going to have to take the extra time necessary to compress the material as you go. It will be worse when you bring the top poles together but you will still have to compress the tent even more once you bring the bottom poles together as well.

Step 4: Roll the tent over on the side

Keep your hands wrapped around the poles as you do this. Just because much of the pressure is relieved, doesn’t mean that there is not enough remaining to pop your tent back out again if you let the poles go.

Once it’s on its side, flip it so that the doorway is facing the ground. This will give you access to the back of the tent, but be sure to keep one hand firmly holding the four poles that you already folded in place.

Grab the back half of the tent and fold it down as well, bringing the back poles together with the group that you already have in your hand. You’re basically flattening the tent at this point, so it’s a good idea to know where your tie-downs are.

If you use something else to tie the tent in place, be sure to have it handy so you don’t have to wander around camp with a giant, folded loop of canvas in your hand trying to hunt something down to tie the poles together with.

All you need to do is make sure that all of the circles of poles that you have in your hand are flush with each other. Tie them in place and you’re all set.

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We’ve written a pretty in-depth guide to packing a tent in a backpack which might come in handy if you’re on a longer hike.

A few notes on folding larger pop-up tents

Photo by Michał Bielejewski / Unsplash

Larger pop-up tents are obviously designed for more than one person, however, they are designed in much the same way, using poles that are bent into circles that have just enough pressure on them to snap outward when you untie the poles and let the tent loose.

For the most part, you can probably still do this on your own, even though the loops of poles more be higher in number and larger to accommodate more campers. The best way to tackle it is to use a second person.

Remember to clean the tent thoroughly before you get started, removing all of the debris that may have made its way inside and giving it a good wipe-down before you get started.

Pop-up tents don’t usually have the same length and width. The length is longer than the width and if you have a second person with you, that person would stand on the other side of the tent from you, in the center, or across the width of the tent.

You will fold it up in exactly the same way, remembering to keep the door and windows open so that the compressing air has somewhere to escape. Start with the center and work your way out with yourself folding the middle poles at the same time as your helper is folding the middle poles from the other side.

It’s like folding a giant blanket where you and the person helping you, simply mimic each other’s movements as you bring the corners together. However you want to look at it, it amounts to the same thing as the smaller pop-up tent and once you have it all together, force the rings flush and strap it all down until the next trip.

Are all pop-up tents designed the same?

Photo by João Marta Sanfins / Unsplash

Pop-up tents are almost always the same kind of design, though different manufacturers may use different materials to arrive at the same point. There are different sizes, however, and depending on your needs, you can find a pop-up tent that will be more than enough to accommodate just you or a family of five.

What makes them unique, pop-up tents also make them easy to square away and put up. By virtue of their design, pop-up tents aren’t as resilient and tough as standard tents. Pop-up tents are a lot lighter and they don’t use telescopic poles that are usually heavier.

Pop-up tents are also similar in pricing structure to comparable standard tents, so you won’t have to go out of your way to fork over a lot of extra cash just for the luxury of being able to quickly and effortlessly assemble a tent.

If there is a drawback to using pop-up tents, it’s the fact that they are so lightweight. When you set one up, always be sure to check where your windbreaks are. It’s not like the wind will pick the tent up with you in it (if that were the case, you shouldn’t be there in the first place) but it might sling your tent around when it’s unoccupied.

You can always stake a pop-up tent down, but it will always lack the weight and overall stability of a standard tent. The greatest advantage of a pop-up tent will always be that it is designed for fast and easy assembly and disassembly.

Final thoughts

Once you get the hang of the steps you need to take to fold up your pop-up tent, you should be able to do it in your sleep, regardless of whether it’s a small, one-person pop-up or one that accommodates five or six people.

It’s a quick process and it’s what makes a pop-up tent so popular. So long as you clean it and maintain it properly, you will have the opportunity to fold up your pop-up tent many more times over its life span.